Author Topic: Add: The Bold Fisherman


Posted - 26 Aug 02 - 12:31 pm

The Bold Fisherman
As I roved out one May morning
Down by the riverside
And there I saw a bold fisherman
Come rowing down the tide
Come rowing down the tide
And there I saw a bold fisherman
Come rowing down the tide

"Good morning to you, you bold fisherman
How came you a-fishing here?"
"I came a-fishing for your sweet sake
All down the river clear"

He then pulled off his morning gown
And gently laid it down
And there I spied three chains of gold
All round his neck hang down.

Down on her bended knees she feel
And aloud for mercy cried
For calling you a bold fisherman
I'm sure you are some lord

"Arise, arise you gay lady
From off your bended knees:
There's not one word in all you said
That hath offended me."

"We'll now go to you father's house
And married we will be
And then you'll have your bold fisherman
To row you on the sea."

Source: The Life of a Man, EFDS Publication

Collected by Ken Stubbs from George Maynard, Three Bridges, Sussex, 1956 (or thereabouts)

Ken notes include the comment "This is one of our oldest folk songs. Some students consider that the bold fisherman was not Jesus Christ (the fisher of men) but an earlier Saviour."
("The Young Tradition" speculated in their sleeve notes that any religous connection might be spurious and that it may just be a straightforward love song.)

This is widely distributed song and has been collected from Harry Cox and the Copper family in the UK. It has also been collected in the US.

Database entry is here


Posted - 26 Aug 02 - 01:40 pm

A number of copies can be found at the Bodliean Library website by searching for "Bold Fisherman". An example entry is shown below

Printer: Catnach, J. (London)
Date: between 1813 and 1838
Imprint: J. Catnach, Printer, 2, 3, Monmouth-court 7 Dials
Illus. Ballads on sheet: 2
Note: Firth b.25(113) is another issue.

Copies: Harding B 11(3114)

Edited By dmcg - 8/26/2002 1:40:32 PM

Mary in Kentucky

Posted - 26 Aug 02 - 02:13 pm

I think the database entry has "The Blacksmith" for the midi file. (still one of my favorites.)

Jon Freeman

Posted - 26 Aug 02 - 03:37 pm

Mary, thanks for pointing that out.

abc2midi did not like a line "The Life of a Man" in the abc. I have preceded it with "I: " now and all seems fine.


Malcolm Douglas
Posted - 26 Aug 02 - 05:01 pm

Roud 291 Laws O24

In her notes accompanying a version of the song noted from Mrs. Joiner of Chiswell Green, Hertfordshire (1914), Lucy Broadwood suggested that it was "a vulgar and secularized transmutation of a mediæval allegorical original". (Journal of the Folk Song Society, vol.V issue 19, 1915: pp.132-135). Though it's an interesting thought, her "evidence" seems today to be slim to the point of non-existence; we should bear in mind, of course, that such ideas were quite fashionable at the time.

I don't know where Ken Stubbs got the idea that this is "one of our oldest folk songs", or who his mysterious "some students" were (he seems to have taken Miss Broadwood's theory as proven fact) who, not content with imagining an obscure Gnostic allegory in a song which there is no obvious reason to suppose is anything more than a straightforward "courtship in disguise" narrative, went a step further and implied a pre-Christian (!) significance; perhaps they preferred (wisely) to remain anonymous.

It took me some time to find a secondhand copy of The Life of a Man, and in the course of searching, I kept coming across references to occult sex manuals written by a Ken Stubbs. Does anyone happen to know if this was the same man?


Posted - 26 Aug 02 - 05:27 pm

Database notes updated to include Malcolm's references.

Technical note: The problem with the ABC file seems to have been that the 'information' I provided was so long that something split it into two lines and corrupted the ABC. Other submitters please note!

Malcolm Douglas
Posted - 26 Aug 02 - 06:36 pm

Most traditional examples are from Southern England, though broadside versions were printed as far north as Birmingham, so presumably the song had a wider distribution at one time. The Roud Index currently lists a few from elsewhere: Canada (3); the USA (1); and Scotland (1).

masato sakurai

Posted - 12 Jan 03 - 02:25 am

Roger deV. Renwick wrote a chapter on this song ("The Bold Fisherman: Symbolism in English Traditional Folksong") in his English Folk Poetry: Structure and Meaning (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1980, pp. 21-53).

Phil Taylor

Posted - 12 Jan 03 - 12:26 pm

A few other oddities about the abc for this tune.

The V:1 field in the header shouldn't be there. A V: field in the header means it's multivoice; if there's no corresponding field in the tune BarFly won't display anything.

The slurred Fs at the start of the second line should be tied.

D5 at the end is an illegal note length (can't be displayed as a single note in the music).

Here it is fixed:

T:The Bold Fisherman
S:George Maynard, Three Bridges, Sussex, 1956 (or thereabouts)
B:"The Life of a Man", EFDS Publication, 1972
Z:Ken Stubbs
F: /songs
A, |D2 D B,CD |E2 E A,2 A, |D2 D E/D3/2E |
w:As I roved out_ one May Mor-ning Down by the ri_ ver
F3-F2 F |A2 F E/D3/2E |F2 F/F/ B,2 B, |E2 E C/B,3/2C |
w:side_ And there I saw_ a bold fish-er-man Come row-ing down_ the
(D3 D2) A, |D2 D E/D3/2E |F3-F2 F |A2 F E/D3/2E |
w:tide_ Come row-ing do-wn the tide_ And there I saw_ a
F2 F/F/ B,2 B, |E2 E CA,C |D3-D2 z |]
w:bold fish-er-man Come row-ing down_ the tide

Jon Freeman

Posted - 12 Jan 03 - 01:05 pm

It looks like someone ?Dave? has beaten me to posting the correction. Sorry about this one. I can't find Phil's list of corrections but I am pretty sure the errors mentioned above were things I thought I had fixed.



Edited By Jon Freeman - 1/12/2003 1:06:57 PM

Abby Sale

Posted - 14 Jan 03 - 01:17 am

Oddly, I sang "Bold Fisherman" at the local club last night. Not the lovely one entered here - I sang the travesty of the same name. The one I sang was collected in upstate New York by composer/folksong collector/musicologist Elie Sigmeister. (He was the guy what wrote the good notes for the Baez Song-book). I had to sing it since this week is Sigmeister's birthday - b1/15/1909 (d3/10/1991).

The collection was the single recovery from tradition and I don't believe it ever occurs in print before that. "The Bold Fisherman" does not seem in any way related to "The Bold Fisherman" but it seems clear that it must be a relic of a lost full ballad.

I first heard it from the late great, Ed McCurdy but it was made famous by Humphrey Bogart drunkenly singing it in "The African Queen"

Good song.

There was a bold fisherman who sailed out from Pimbeco
To slew the wild codfish and the bold mackerel.
When he arrived off Pimbeco, the stormy winds did wildly blow
His little boat went wibble, wobble, and over board went he.

Singing, "Twink-i-doodle-dum, twink-i-doodle-dum,"
T'was the highly interesting song he sung.
Twink-i-doodle-dum, twink-i-doodle-dum,"
Sang the bold fisherman.

He wriggled and scriggled in the water, so briny-o,
He yellowed and bellowed for help but in vain.
Then downward he did gently glide
To the bottom of the silvery tide;
But previously to this he cried,
"Fare the well Mar-i-Jane."


His ghost walked at midnight to the bedside of his Mar-i-Jane.
When he told her how dead he was; said she: "I'll go mad."
"Since my lovey he is so dead," said she,
"All joy on earth has fled for me;
"I never more will happy be."
And she went raving mad.


By the way, it's "Pimbeco." Often sung 'Pimlico.'

Jon Freeman

Posted - 14 Jan 03 - 01:33 am

Abby, being one of the "tunemongers" here, rather than one for the words, any chance of a tune to go with it? I can take MIDI, NWC, Melody Assistant, Cakewalk and scans of tunes in a few graphic formats and try to post as abc here. Email is


Abby Sale

Posted - 14 Jan 03 - 03:18 am

Jon, the usual tune is at the Digital Tradition mirror,;ttBOLDFISH.html in all those formats.

I did it up some years back as a gwbasic file but few people can play that anymore...

Jon Freeman

Posted - 14 Jan 03 - 03:12 pm

Thanks Abby. Quite a different tune as well as song. Here is the abc from the site:

T:The Bold Fisherman
G,| C C E| G3/4 G/4 G E| F D G| E3/4 D/4 C G,| C C E| G G E/2E/2|
F D B,| C2 G| A3/4 A/4 A F| G3/4 G/4 G E| F3/4 E/4 D G| E3/4 D/4 C G|
A3/4 A/4 A F| G/2G/2G/2 G/2 E| G3/4 G/4 F D| C2 G/2G/2| G3/4 F/4 E E3/4 E/4|
E3/4 D/4 C C3/4 C/4| D3/4 D/4 D3/4 D/4 C3/4 D/4| E3/4 D/4 C G3/4 G/4|
G3/4 F/4 E E3/4 E/4| E3/4 D/4 C E3/4 E/4| F D B,| C2||


Jon Freeman

Posted - 14 Jan 03 - 03:18 pm

Just thinking... The song Abby gave was collected from oral tradition and could be added to the song database... Related songs... Would it be worth having another "category" there called "title" (i.e. same or mre or less same name but unrelated)?



Posted - 14 Jan 03 - 04:53 pm

Not a bad idea, but I don't like "title". I'm not sure I can think of anything better, though. "Easily confused with", perhaps?

Jon Freeman

Posted - 14 Jan 03 - 07:33 pm

OK Dave, I've done that.

Guest Account
Posted - 05 Jan 04 - 05:31 pm

<b>From: Jonathan S</b><br><br>
We have long had "There was a bold Fisherman..." in my family as a song to sing to babies when bouncing them on the knee. In fact I sing it to my baby son most days just now, as it is a brilliant song for bringing the wind up and a lot of fun too.

It was a pleasure to find it on the internet as a known song.
We know that it goes back at least 4 generations in our Anglo-Australian family as my father remembers his grandfather Aaron Blashki of Australia singing it to him as a child.

Our version is slightly different:

"There was a bold Fisherman who sailed forth from Billingsgate,
(ACTION swaying baby gently side to side all the time)
to catch the fine bloater and the gay mackerel,
but when he go to Pimlico,
then the wind it did begin to blow (ACTION blow babies hair)
and the little boat wibble-wobbled so, (ACTION wobble baby here!)
that OVERBOARD he did go... (ACTION here suddenly let baby fall between your knees and catch him)
'midst the blue-bait and the yellow-bait and the grey-bait and the white-bait (HERE the singer can improvise any number of colours of -bait as they want)
...and the grey mackerel
singing "Dinky-doodle-dum, Dinky-doodle-dum"
that's what the bold fisherman sang.
"Dinky-doodle-dum", sang the bold fisherman."

The curious reference to Pimlico (which is a land-locked part of central London) had always seemed to me to be my great-grandfather's little joke, however following the post by Abby Sale on, I got out an old atlas and looked up Pimbeco.
Pimbeco appears not to exist as a placename. However there IS a Pimlico in New South Wales, Australia, on the coast, North of Sydney near Ballina.

On the web site of the TRAILERBOAT FISHERMAN boating magazine it says:
"Pimlico Island (near Ballina) produces top fishing and is as successful from the bank, reachable only by boat. Whiting, flathead, bream and mulloway (school) are all caught here."

At last "Pimlico" in the song makes perfect sense!

As for "Billingsgate" - well, that must have been my great grandfather Blashki's joke, I guess, as he would certainly have known of both "Pimlico"s.



Posted - 05 Jan 04 - 05:53 pm

Very interesting song, Jonathan! There are quite a few songs-with-actions that I used to sing to mine, but nothing with quite so many different actions - two seemed to be the limit, apart from finger-play games. ("There's the ladies knives and forks" and "There's the church" being the ones I knew best.)

Is the tune more-or-less the same as the one given in the database or Abby's?

Edited By dmcg - 05-Jan-2004 08:17:33 PM

Jon Freeman

Posted - 06 Jan 04 - 12:12 am

Sorry I can't add anything constructive in terms of the song but I (and Pip who has read the post with me) have really enjoyed this info from Jonathan. Great to learn of local or family folk traditions!


Guest Account
Posted - 15 Mar 04 - 08:29 pm

<b>From: Jonathan</b><br><br>Jon,


The tune is the same as the one you posted above
T:The Bold Fisherman
G,| C C E| G3/4 G/4 G E| F D G| E3/4 D/4 C G,| C C E| G G E/2E/2|
F D B,| C2 G| A3/4 A/4 A F| G3/4 G/4 G E| F3/4 E/4 D G| E3/4 D/4 C G|
A3/4 A/4 A F| G/2G/2G/2 G/2 E| G3/4 G/4 F D| C2 G/2G/2| G3/4 F/4 E E3/4 E/4|
E3/4 D/4 C C3/4 C/4| D3/4 D/4 D3/4 D/4 C3/4 D/4| E3/4 D/4 C G3/4 G/4|
G3/4 F/4 E E3/4 E/4| E3/4 D/4 C E3/4 E/4| F D B,| C2||



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